With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil underway, a look through the entire 23-man squads reveals that less than ten teenage players have been chosen to represent their nations at the world soccer jamboree.
This is a statement to underline that nowadays very few teams gamble on the exuberance and promise of youth at major tournaments. Whereas in the past the World Cup proved a useful launching pad for the likes of Pele and Maradona and later on for the likes of Michael Owen, now it appears teams do not take chances as experience and establishment hold sway.
At the 2014 world Cup in Brazil, only nine players wee under 20 years at the date of kick-off and inevitably, the most number are based in the English Premiership. Here, GiveMeSport writer James Charuka profiles four who may leave a lasting impression in Brazil.
One real highlight from the unsuccessful tenure of David Moyes as Manchester United manager is the rise to prominence of Adnan Januzaj. The youngster caught the eye with a series of scintillating displays aptly illustrated by a double strike against Sunderland that inspired the Red Devils to a come-from-behind victory.
Blessed with good technique, a cultured left foot and plenty of trickery, the youngster indeed caught the eye and such was the level of attention from Europe’s top clubs that there was such a relief when he signed the contract in October 2013 with the Old Trafford club. Having agonised over which nationality as several nations, not least of all England, queued up for his international signature, the Brussels-born winger finally opted for the country of his birth, much to the relief of Belgian coach Marc Wilmots, who had tried for a considerable period to get the youngster to pledge his allegiance to Belgium.
It’s a star-studded Belgian side, but Wilmots probably recognises that the youngster could prove to be a useful joker in the pack that may get the side out of a tight spot later in some games. The red half of Manchester and certainly the nation of Belgium will be willing him to do well as he represents the other Red Devils in Brazil.
It is probably the emergence of this talented left-back that has marked the end of Ashley Cole’s England career and also strengthened (Roy Hodgson) the England manager’s resolve to opt for youth in reserve. Alongside Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaw is one of England’s brightest prospects and was an enterprising regular such that he ended up in the PFA Team of the Year whilst also being shortlisted for the PFA Young Player of the Year.
On the pitch, Shaw combines the two most important aspects of a full-back: excelling in both attack and defence. With an excellent left foot and also a growing reputation with a dead-ball, the Southampton man is as impressive going forward as he is when defending.
Coming from the famed academy that has nurtured the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, the skillful Shaw will be waiting in the wings and will bide his time with Leighton Baines now the regular left-back for the Three Lions, but in a game where injuries and the unexpected always happen, he will fit into the side seamlessly should the opportunity arise.
In any event, a bigger stage than Southampton awaits him as his impending transfer to Manchester United is one of football’s open secrets.
This Tottenham Hotspur teenager raised eyebrows by breaking into a star-studded midfield for the London club. He made his first start in the London derby against Arsenal in the FA Cup before earning rave reviews in his following match against Crystal Palace in the league. Born and raised in the Lille academy in France, Bentaleb earned his move to the Lily Whites after going for trials with Birmingham City and impressing Spurs scouts in 2012.
Blessed with a good engine, this central midfielder is ever in the thick of play and it is surely a huge sign of recognition that he is already an Algerian international at such a tender age. He recently scored his first international goal against Romania in a World Cup warm-up encounter after only making his debut in March this year and subsequently sealed his place in a team brimming with players schooled and groomed in France but of Algerian descent.
While Algeria is filled with established internationals, the promise of this tall youngster is unmistakable and one hopes he certainly goes on to fulfil his immense potential.
In Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, England certainly have a gem in the making. This fleet-footed forward is versatile, able to play anywhere upfront and certainly Liverpool’s find in recent seasons. Born in Jamaica and raised in Kingston until the age of five, sterling migrated to England with his mother and began playing in the Queens Park Rangers academy until he was lured to the North West of England during the tenure of Rafael Benitez.
After showing glimpses of his potential, it has been the past Premier League season that has really set the tongues wagging. Current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has deployed him in a range of positions from the top of a midfield diamond, out wide or even as a central striker in some games. His goal against Manchester City in a crucial Premier League encounter underlined his speed of thought and movement and was capped by an unerring finish.
In a season that promised so much but ultimately ended trophy-less, he nonetheless provided much hope for the future of both The Reds and England, for whom he made his debut at the tender age of 17.
Despite often being tactically sterile, Hodgson’s weapon of choice in this World Cup could well be the unexpected yet fearless impact that Sterling has displayed in the just-ended season and which he used to such devastating effect.
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